Does keeping secrets in marriage make it inherently unhealthy? Over our years of marriage, and our years counseling married and engaged couples, we’ve found the answer to be both nuanced and subjective. The truth is, the idea that a couple should never keep secrets sounds and feels good at the surface level–but can a marriage really handle an overflow of transparency at all times?
Many of us grew up believing that there are no secrets in a healthy marriage. We come to believe that spouses should tell one another everything, no matter what–hiding no details and laying everything out in the name of total transparency. But is it truly wise or healthy for us to reveal every thought, feeling, and impulse to our spouse?
If you’re wondering whether keeping secrets can make a marriage unhealthy, the answer is: it depends. Read on to learn more.
Serious Truths Should Not Be Kept Secret, Even When They Hurt
While spouses may not necessarily need to bombard one another with every detail at every turn, we’ll start by reinforcing the fact that serious, painful truths should be disclosed between spouses. If a secret could harm or impact your marriage, then it needs to be out in the open, even when it hurts. Likewise, you must absolutely avoid deceptive behavior.
Some examples of these types of truths include job loss, debt, infidelity, addictions, health diagnoses, and any other information that could damage (or do further harm to) the trust between you and your spouse. Even small, but pervasive behavior patterns can translate into problems if one spouse feels the need to be secretive.
Oftentimes, people keep significant truths secret from one another because they don’t want to do harm. For example, perhaps one spouse loses a job and doesn’t want their husband or wife to know. Or maybe one spouse used shared funds to make a large investment without consulting the other because they didn’t want to experience their partner’s potentially negative reaction. We’ve personally experienced counseling a couple where one partner did not disclose a diagnosed medical condition, and their spouse learned about it only because they found an empty medicine bottle in the bathroom garbage.
Some Truths Are Best Left Unsaid
We believe that healthy marriages strike a balance between being open, respecting one another’s privacy, and speaking the truth in love. Before you let the unfiltered truth flow haphazardly toward your spouse, you need to question whether that truth could cause harm. We like to call this censored self-disclosure.
Some people lean into the idea of being “brutally honest” with one another, no matter how hurtful the result. But when you let the concept of brutal honesty rule your communication with one another, you open the doors to unnecessary conflict in your relationship. Rather than a safe space, your marriage could potentially deteriorate into a warzone.
Other spouses feel the need to say everything that comes to mind, without thinking before they speak. But some feelings and thoughts are fleeting, and don’t last for long. There’s no need to vocalize passing sentiments that could be hurtful to your spouse. In James 1:26, James emphasizes the importance of controlling what you say, and thinking it over carefully before you say it.
Before you speak, ask yourself whether it’s possible to share this truth with your spouse in love, or whether this information might lead to unnecessary distress. Do you really need to say it? Would it be harmful to withhold your thoughts in this instance?
Discuss Expectations and Set Boundaries
You and your spouse probably have different ideas and expectations about honesty, openness, and privacy in your marriage. If you’ve never talked this over with your spouse, it might be beneficial to do so. You’ll want to establish boundaries and expectations that work for both of you as a couple.
Within those boundaries, you can decide what life details you want to share with one another, and what information might be better left unsaid. Are there changes that may affect the level of stress at home? Consider talking about those so no one is left in the dark. On the other hand, you might find that you both feel more peaceful if you don’t go into exhaustive detail about work-related minutiae or the ins and outs of your extended family’s affairs.
Prioritize Trust and Avoid Deceit
The bottom line is this: secrets that involve deceiving your spouse could irreparably harm your marriage. You must both avoid deceiving one another if you want your marriage to be healthy. In order to have a greater measure of appropriate privacy in your relationship, you have to maintain trust with one another. In this way, it’s possible to build a healthy marriage that both respects each spouse’s privacy and maintains trust.
Building a healthier marriage depends not only on your dynamic together, but on your health as individuals. If you need guidance on how to become healthier–for the benefit of your relationships–check out our book, Healthy Me, Healthy Us.
Have you and your spouse agreed on a measure of privacy in your relationship? How did you get there, and how has it impacted your marriage? Let us know in the comments.
This is our second marriage and we have been married for 23 years. I didn’t come to Christ until I was 45 years old. My wife knows a lot about my past and how immoral I was but I have not shared everything from those days. I thought it was to protect her from some of the awful things I did sexual. Am I wrong to have not told her everything. All these immoral things were done way before I married her.
My husband of 5 years made me tell him in detail about all my past sexual experiences. Then he told me his. I’m disgusted to hear things he did and how he used women.
I wish I would have said no way, leave it in the past. It was very humiliating for me. It’s ruined my marriage. But that is him not you.
The past is just that…past. I feel I shared too much of my past with my husband who now holds it against me for what he feels cheated him out of having a wife who was more outgoing. In my case, it has caused him to drift away and he seems to be using some of my “confessions” to make his case against my personality traits which tend to be more laid back and not aggressive or so outgoing. I wish I could take back all the things I revealed to him, but since “the cat’s out of the bag,” he doesn’t trust me or give me any respect. I’ve tried to talk to him about how that was in my childhood, but he’s convinced that my behavior has been warped by my family dynamics. I’m now considering having a trial separation as a result since he is always questioning my motives, and meanings when I try to talk about my friends or future dream of travel. The stress has also affected my health and he has no real love for me in the way he treats me. Be cautious about sharing any past misadventures as it could lead you down a slippery slope.
Kathleen, I have been living the same nightmare and then some. I have been married for over 5 years now and in the beginning he was awesome, sweet, generous, fun, showered me with gifts. Our lives had so much in common I knew he was the one. This is a second marriage for both of us. About the past, he wanted an open, honest and transparent relationship, something I never had. What I didn’t realize is he started asking all the questions and I have no problem telling the truth because I am honest and loyal and besides it’s the past right, I don’t live there anymore! He went through the rundown of the husband all the boyfriends and what happened. He dug deeper and was very graphic about my sexual experiences, in detail and then press for more. When he degraded to positions, places, oral, anal, threesomes, etc. and then size of their dicks! I had enough and told him I was very uncomfortable and I felt that kind of detail was abnormal for a wife to tell a husband. He insinuated I was not telling him everything, put me down that I like big dicks and younger guys, calling me names and those guys got whatever they wanted and he got the worn out, cold old hag. (I’m 60 now) I started shutting down, pulling away and just an emotional mess. He has never stopped talking about my relationships. A normal conversation somehow ends up in a heated discussion and fight.
He tells me I’m no good and go back to the POS cuz I’m still f****n’ him. Last week he called me a C**t. I have asked him to leave too and he refuses. I am also dealing with chronic lying, small and big. I call him out on it and he lies, I tell him I saw with my own eyes so I know. He gaslights, diverts, manipulates, calls me the liar, till I am so confused, and forget what I was saying. In January I saw him throwing a pharmacy bag in the garage trashcan and putting a pill bottle in his pocket. When he turned around and saw me the look in his eyes of fear confirmed he was guilty. I later dug out the bag and receipt and saw he has an ongoing prescription for Viagara that I knew nothing about, and yes, he lied to the end. A week later he wanted to come clean and said he was embarrassed but still had so many holes. We haven’t had sex since Dec. or Jan. He has a high sex drive and no problems but before I noticed he wasn’t wanting sex but I was glad for that. The lies and fights continue because I can’t trust him. If he is on ED meds then who is getting the benefit of his hard on. I went digging and eventually found pill bottles and samples (some empty) hidden in the back of his car but he denies and then changes the story. I caught him looking at nude girls and pics of women having sex, but he said I opened that on his phone!!!! REALLY!!! Now I know he is full of shit. A Narcissist and an Abuser.
I’m so tired, I’m physically I’ll, I can’t sleep at all or sleep too much. I am a mess and ready to leave. I’m stuck for awhile because I quit my job for him, he asked me to, so everything is his and I have nowhere to go and no one to talk to. He is a respected business owner, does well and has a life outside of home so I’m sure I won’t be believed.
I had no idea when I started looking for answers I would find so many people in the same situation and most comments are nearly the exact same as mine. My heart goes out to all of you that are struggling with all these demons. They are evil and I read you can never fix them. Do not blame yourself for not seeing it all these years. It starts so slowly and sporadic and they are so good at hiding it. ITS NOT OUR FAULT! I did my best to have a happy marriage and he has no remorse. He won’t change, he has promised to so many times I just tell him I don’t want to hear another promise. Since I am in our guest room and told him I need separation, he has mostly left me alone. I thinks he likes this “time out” as he puts it and he is being real nice right now. I know that will change if I give in again because he is a liar!!! He doesn’t know I am making plans to leave, he’ll know when I do because this will be a trigger that I’m not under his control and he may hurt me or destroy my things because it has happened twice now.
I’m glad I decided to reply, I feel some better for writing it down and have one person I told. Stay strong Kathleen and be good to yourself, we shouldn’t be abused and life destroyed because we loved a mentally sick person. I know you, myself and all these others never deserve that!
To me things of the past should be left in the past buried Nd forgotten we move. I have made such a mistake I mean is not funny Nd I cause the day I told my husband a little of my past Nd it will never I mean never happen again. We always protect their secret with our life but when it come wife they can’t protect it too bed.
Susan, you did the right thing being honest and opening up to your husband. The past is behind you but it will always be there, always has effects on you. It’s not your fault your husband has a small mind, judging you, criticizing and making you close down. You are not living the past anymore and he wasn’t even there! He showed he can’t be trusted with your heart. I’m sure his mistakes are no better, he is an immature dumbass!